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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

ListenListen to this

Stress and burnout in the field

Hello my name is Leann and I am a 3rd year Child and Youth Worker student and I will be graduating this April. I was just wondering about what the burn out rate is in this field of work due to the high stress level and high demand of of our job. I am also wondering about how people in this field deal with this issue. I am looking for any suggestions that will help assist me on my journey to being a CYW!!!

Thank you

Hi Leann; I don't have any stats to back me up here but I believe that the burn out rate is fairly high in this field. I would strongly suggest when you are going to interviews one of your questions should be how often you receive supervision. Supervision is very important, and you'd be surprised how many agencies do not offer their CYW's consistent supervision. The other thing is make sure you have other ways to relieve stress in your own life, a good group of supportive friends and never forget about you!! If we don't take care of ourselves we cannot take care of the children, youth and families we work with.

Well Leann, I believe that self care is a effective measure to help someone's stress level in regards to their field. I am a third year student and have part time jobs in the field and have troubles taking time to myself so I have to remind myself that sometimes things that don't seem important really are. Like taking a relaxing break from work and school might not be a priority but maybe it can be very helpful to you and make you a better CYC.

Alex Aiello, Thunder bay, ON

From: Mary Murray
Hi Leanne, unfortunately burn-out is all too apparent in the field of social care. Too few managers acknowledge the impact on staff following for example assault or the continuous bombardment of anti-social/inappropriate behaviour on them. I think it is a good idea to have included in weekly team meetings, a time at the end when staff can be asked and say exactly how they are feeling and managing/or not. Professional supervision can also be a life saver. If this is not available in your service, ask that it be introduced or find yourself a good supervisor outside of your service. Delano, F. (2001) "If I could supervise my supervisor..." Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol.15 No.2, pp. 61-64 makes useful reading*; try also 'Professional Supervision: Myths, Culture and Structure' (2004) Eileen O'Neill (RMA). Eileen O'Neill herself assisted our department with the introduction of professional supervision and it has been a wonderful asset to individuals and to the team. Above all Leanne, take good care of yourself. Be aware of and share your gifts and talents. In the areas which you may require support and professional development, ask for this support, ask ask ask!!!! Good luck in your career.

Mary Murray, Ireland

* There is an extract of the Delano article at  – Eds.

I think it is wonderful that you are thinking about this as when I began, there really wasn't much talk about this subject. I think it was thought of as meaning you had a personal weakness. we may also have seen how our co-workers who were struggling were thought of in the organization. The motto may have been, "suck it up and get on with your work". Some things have changed for the better and maybe some other things remain the same. There are lots of good articles and books out there on the subject. That's one thing i would do differently. I would have read about the subjects a lot more. I also would have exercised more. I think I would have talked about it more with significant people in my life as sometimes they see things that you may not be tuned into. Stress happens and I don't really see it as bad. What I see as bad is when you feel alone with it or when it starts to overwhelm you. That can happen in any profession. I think there is a kind of compassion fatigue that can set in on workers who really want to help others and feel drained by the appparent lack of good outcomes or a shortage of resources. I think you have to take care of yourself and protect time for yourself.

Take care, Charlie Coleman

Quote: Too few managers acknowledge the impact on staff following for example assault or the continuous bombardment of anti-social/inappropriate behaviour on them.

I must as the following question. If you were to be standing between a bear and her cub, what would an "Appropriate" reaction be for that mother bear?

I also ask you again, using the actual field of work you are in, as to what you think a human being's "approprote" response should be? If they don't react, they are deemed as uncaring, and not bonded to the child. If they do react, they are labelled as anti-social, and inapropriate.

Could you be burned out yourself at this moment?

John Dunn

Hi Leann,
I have to be honest, I have not read your original question, but in response to the answers you have been given here, I have to say they are all 100% correct.

I have just ended my 10 year career in a residential setting because I did not concentrate on my own self care and ended up too exhausted, too mentally drained and too bitter at the whole company to allow myself to go in for shift one more time. After some down time, I have decided that I can take what I have learned about myself, and apply it to most of the people I have ever worked with. People that still remain in the residential setting that are physically falling apart at the seams, but don't even know it because they are too concerned about the program and the kids and plans of care and ... so on. Even when they are told, 'you need to take some time off, you need to see a doctor about your constant headaches or back pain' etc etc, these people and I think a lot of child and youth workers everywhere put that type of stuff to last priority and like me wait until they are about to explode before they even notice.

So, like I said, I took my experience, applied it to almost all the professionals I know and developed a business. Helper's Haven has a mission to do three things:

To support and motivate our fellow professionals in their complex careers to maintain fresh ideas and an energized approach to working with children, youth, families and people with special needs.
To provide holistic support through professional development workshops, support networks, team building experiences, self-preservation retreats as well as unlimited access to a vast variety of printed resources to enhance therapeutic repertoires and overall ‘Helper’ potentials.
To recognise and celebrate the labours of such professionals and their need for nurturing, reflection and debriefing at regular and predictable intervals.

So far we have professionals flooding our phone lines wanting to know when, where and how they can access these services. I think just that fact alone screams the answers you were looking for. Self care is of utmost importance, but is almost always of last priority to most workers. This needs to change or no one in this profession will make it past that "7 year" mark before they unfortunatley and predicatble completely burn out.

If I had one piece of advice for you and your fellow classmates, find a support network and call/see them regularily for the rest of your career/life. Don't take that extra shift every week, tell your boss you need time for self care. Demand that you get supervision at the vary least monthly and remember, you want to change the lives of the youth you encounter, but never at the price of your own health.

Take care or each other!
Laura Gauthier

I would agree wholeheartedly with Amy and the others. I would also add that I've frequently had to take a step back and remind myself that it is generally not the young people that I'm working with that trigger my stress.

The young people we are working with are generally doing the best they can with what they've got to work with at the time. I also remind myself that while I may not always like their behaviour I don't think I've ever met a kid I didn't like.

Most of the time it's the adults around me that cause the most grief. And most of those adults that cause the grief don't seem to have developed enough insight to reflect on how they are feeling, thinking or behaving. I was reminded recently at some training I attended on debriefing following incidents that with the privilege of clinical judgement comes the responsibility of reflective practice. It's that reflection on our feelings, thoughts and behaviour and what we do with that stuff that counts the most.

Gord White

Hi-I have been following the burnout discussion and I am interested in this topic for several reasons. One is I am a student and have not entered the Child and Youth Care field yet, so I only have my (yes, naive), thoughts – to go on in terms of burnout in this field. I highly value and cherish my self-care practices and I know how critical it is to the health of my whole being. I speculate that because of my strong value and positive experience of self-care in my life, I will be able to maintain it when I do enter the field (of course it wont look just like it does now!). I wonder if I would be more susceptible to burnout if this practice was not a part of my life.

In the last two years of my school life (Human Services), the importance of self-awareness and self-care has come up, and I'm wondering if this is becoming more of a topic in classes because of the high burn-out in the field, and if so, I wonder if there has been any recent reduction as a result? I also wonder if there are more effective ways to prepare/educate students entering this field? When I read comments like "the 7 year mark" and Child and Youth Care workers leaving the field because of not taking care of themselves, I wonder if something got lost along the way or if it is inevitable for some to burn-out. From my readings, there are many reasons and causes of burn out and I wonder how there can be so much emphasis on the importance of – self-awareness/ care/supervision/ accountability/responsibility/support/presence – and yet still have such a high burn-out rate.
Would love to hear feedback

Meghan Mcallister

I think one of the first signs of stress is when reminiscing takes priority over current needs. We are all comforted by either being effective or recalling when our work was effective. When I am so absorbed by my own problems I am not caring for the youth in the manner they need it is a sign to me to get over it and be useful. This seems to keep the candle from burning out.

Dan Suminski "Remember to Breathe"

Below is an edited bit out an upcoming article I am working on:

I would argue that burnout has to do with our capacity to continue to respond emotionally within an environment and society filled with loss, despair, fear, loneliness and grief. Youth workers encounter youth and families in struggle with a society that sometimes seems, at best indifferent and at other times, intent on destroying those people that youth work serves. I would argue that the work requires the ability to avoid distancing oneself from the lived experiences of the children and youth that one encounters. If you manage to avoid the impulse to seek distance from the lives of the youth you serve, you are still faced with the fact that the lives of youth workers themselves encounter similar conditions within their own families and communities. This combination of your own experience and the experience of those youth and families you serve can reach levels of pain encountered within any given day that become at times unbearable. This means we must find ways to manage the pain of the work. This is a complex and difficult task, but unless we engage it seriously, it is almost impossible to avoid becoming alienated from the actual encounter between two people in community with one another.

Pain is complicated. It is an imminent force, which means it cannot be changed from the outside. It has to be met on its own terms and fully engaged in the actuality of its lived condition. That means that one has to fully accept pain on its own terms without anaesthetic (drinking, despair, drugs, rage, anger, cynicism, shame, guilt or separation/denial).

Correspondingly, however, that doesn't mean indulging pain or wallowing in pain by holding onto it. Pain, like all feeling, is not a stationary or one dimensional static force. It is a force used to take things apart, to dissasemble them and it only sustains itself within things that won't come apart or reorganize themselves at its insistence--bodies, systems etc. It can't be outrun without hugely damaging consequences.

Pain requires that one allow it to transform you. You have to open your heart. The temptation in the work, of course, is to close it off in order to protect it from any further assault. That interferes in the development of any kind of actual collaboration between youth and adults, because if you have you closed off your heart or even restricted it then you can't feel and if you can't feel, you can't know the world in its actual formation and destruction. You become senseless and your reality is thoroughly ideological and unrelated to the material conditions of the world in which you live. In my practice, burn out is avoided when we develop ways of working that seriously engage youth and adults in political projects that build communities of both youth and adults that can cope with and change the social conditions that produce the pain. To do that we must become fearless in the face of pain and suffering; we must become dangerous in our love.

Hans Skott Myhre

To previous contributors to this thread John and Laura,

I hope that All Child and Youth Worker have the opportunity to read your e-mail. Your messages are so powerful. I work in a school and I have 20 days per year, I try to use all of them. We need to heal ourself in order to be able to help others!!!!

Carmen a.l

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